Alberta will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first destinations I remember visiting as a child, when my family and I drove from Toronto to Edmonton for my uncle’s wedding. I was about six years old and it was the ultimate road trip, complete with long hours of driving (thanks, Dad!), toe-tapping tunes on the radio and of course, lots of back seat snacks for me and my sister to share. As the scenery along our drive gave way to the prairies, stretching endlessly out to meet the horizon, then later, to the majesty of Alberta’s mountains, I still remember my mother’s awe and delight. She truly loved the natural beauty of our country, so unapologetically on display out west, and her pleasure was contagious.
Fast-forward a decade or three and we still share a love for this beautiful province. My mother visits regularly, answering the call of the mountains and I’ve had the good fortune of returning multiple times in recent years. On my last trip, my husband Johnny Jet and I planned to experience some of Alberta’s cold-weather fun (skiing, snow-shoeing, ice skating) but the weather didn’t cooperate. We were treated to mild temperatures that struck winter fun off the agenda. Instead, we found other ways to spend our three days in Alberta!
Arriving in Calgary
My husband and I arrived at the Calgary International Airport on separate flights; mine from Toronto, his from Los Angeles. We landed just in time for lunch and since we were heading straight up to Banff, we stopped along the way at Notable – The Restaurant. Led by visionary chef Michael Noble and described as gourmet casual, Notable does not disappoint. The ambiance is intimate but inviting and the food was incredible. I had the seared scallops, served with grilled romaine hearts and a bacon and caper dressing. It was so good, I could easily have ordered another portion. My husband ordered the aromatic-rubbed natural quarter chicken, served with fries and artisan greens or soup and he wondered aloud if he could order another chicken to go – you know, to snack on in the car … ? It was just that good.
Our bellies full, we jumped back in our rented car and hit the highway to drive the hour and fifteen minutes to Banff. If you’ve never driven from Calgary to Banff, you must. It’s a big sky drive – the sky seems endless as it stretches out to touch the mountaintops in the distance. It’s scenic the whole way as the mountains edge ever closer, rising higher and higher the closer you get. It’s pretty and peaceful.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge
Tired from our flights and our drive, my husband and I were happy to check into the rustic Buffalo Mountain Lodge. This Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts property is a wonderful retreat for couples and families alike. It’s ideally situated just a 15-minute walk or three-minute drive from shopping and restaurants in downtown Banff and is nestled among nine acres of soaring trees.
Our room was the definition of mountain lodge comfort, combining rustic with modern touches. From the pine ceilings and the stone fireplace, to the LCD television with Blu-Ray player, our premier room was a delightful mix of both styles. But the highlight of the room is, without question, the bathroom, which boasted a claw-foot tub and heated slate floors. It wasn’t really that cold when we arrived but my husband couldn’t resist lighting a fire to complete the cozy atmosphere. And when it started lightly snowing, the crackle of the fireplace was the perfect finishing touch to our mountain getaway.
Dining at Buffalo Mountain Lodge
For food, there are a few options: The Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room, The Sleeping Buffalo Lounge and Cilantro. We ate at the Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room, where the rustic charm continues with rich woods and colours. The extensive menu offered everything from diver scallops and duck confit to buffalo striploin and northern caribou. But when in Alberta … you should probably try the Alberta beef, which was what I did. This ribeye steak, served with roasted balsamic fingerling potatoes and shallots in a red wine reduction did the province proud!
Things to do in the Canadian Rockies
You may think of Alberta as a strictly winter-weather getaway but there’s so much to do there, all year round. For snow bunnies, Banff is a world-class destination for skiing, snowboarding and ice-skating but in the spring and summer months, the spectacular natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies region makes it a picturesque place for hiking, biking, horseback riding and white water rafting. And canoeing, of course. Canoeing on Lake Louise should definitely be on your bucket list if it isn’t already!
Banff Upper Hot Springs
If you’re looking for something more low-key to do, add the Banff Upper Hot Springs to your list. The Banff Upper Hot Springs can be found at an elevation of 5,200 feet (the highest in Canada) and the water temperature is kept between 37°C and 40°C or 98°F and 104°F. This is the only naturally occurring hot springs pool in Banff and the top five minerals found in the water are sulfate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium and sodium. When was the last time you put on your bathing suit and went for a swim surrounded by snow-capped mountains?
Banff to Lake Louise
From Banff, we did the 30-minute drive to Lake Louise along the TransCanada highway. As we wound our way there, we took in all of the spectacular scenery along the way. There are lots of roadside stops so be sure to pull over along the way to savour the beauty and take a selfie or two!
The highlight in Lake Louise is … Lake Louise. Unlike Banff, which has a commercial hub where you can go out and eat and shop, the main thing to do in Lake Louise is visit the lake … but trust me: It’s worth it. You won’t want to do anything else once you lay eyes on the turquoise waters of Lake Louise. Hours and hours, days even, can easily be spent in this most peaceful spot, canoeing in the summer, ice-skating in the winter and standing at the edge, absorbing its beauty all year round. The lake is adjacent to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise so if you’re a guest there, you’ll have easy access to the lake whenever you want. But even if you’re not staying at the grand chateau, consider having lunch or afternoon tea at any of the restaurants that overlook the lake.
The Post Hotel & Spa
My husband I stayed at the Post Hotel & Spa, a Relais & Chateaux property, just a 3.6-kilometer drive from Lake Louise. We’d stayed there once before in the summer and it was just as beautiful this time around, in the early spring when there was still some light snow on the ground.
Rooms at the Post Hotel & Spa
This hotel is full of charm, one of the defining characteristics of any Relais & Chateaux property. There are rooms and suites in the main hotel building as well as cabins that offer more room for families or large groups. Our suite was spacious and comfortable and rustic. From the king-size bed are beautiful views and while the dark green tiled bathroom is not my style, the deep soaking Jacuzzi tub definitely is!
Dining at the Post Hotel & Spa
The main restaurant at the Post Hotel is on the dark side, but is quaint and intimate. Definitely make a reservation for a table near a window to enjoy the outdoor views while you eat. The dining atmosphere is described as casual elegance, meaning jackets are discretionary for men – but there’s a class and sophistication to the venue, so I’d recommend dressing up rather than down. The service is impeccable, from the moment you sit down and are served warm bread to the moment you’ve dabbed the last bit of chocolate dessert off your lips. To start, I enjoyed the tartar of ahi tuna on avocado in ginger marmalade, followed by the lobster on pappardelle in a champagne-tarragon sauce. A perfect end to our meal, the warm dark Callebaut chocolate banana cake with house made vanilla ice cream hit the spot but looking back at the menu now, I’m wondering why I didn’t opt for the pecan fudge pie and milk chocolate mousse with homemade white mocha and maple Magnum ice cream?! I suppose I’ll just have to go back and try it to see if it’s as good as it sounds. Hashtag: All In The Name Of Research. I suppose it’s no surprise that the Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List awarded the Post Hotel & Spa ‘Best Food in the Americas’.
Post Hotel Spa
You can’t visit the Post Hotel & Spa and not visit the spa, now can you? Open from 9am to 9pm, the spa’s long hours make it easy for you to find a time that suits your schedule best. The spa menu offers an assortment of treatments like revitalizing body rituals (scrubs, wraps and exfoliation) and massages, from therapeutic and aromatherapy massages to signature treatments like a bamboo or Thai stem massage. On the menu are also facial therapies, massages, foot and leg treatments and a ‘Gentlemen’s Menu’, featuring three treatments designed specifically for men. And last but certainly not least, your trip to the Post Hotel & Spa won’t be complete without some well-deserved relaxation time in the saltwater pool, whirlpool and steam room. Once you’ve adequately reduced your body to jelly, just amble back to the serenity of your room.
Visiting Alberta definitely makes you think that Mother Nature has a favourite child. Whether you’re an adventure seeker or prefer a more laidback getaway, Alberta can deliver, from high-octane activities for outdoorsy types to luxurious hotel and spa stays for indoorsy types. Either way, you’re guaranteed a good time.